In southern Butler County, Kansas, there is a rather intriguing, albeit high-and-dry, stone arch bridge. Known as the Walz Ford Bridge, this small, double-arch structure is one of three remaining stone bridges in Butler County known to have been originally built by Walter Sharp. Another noteworthy feature of this stone bridge is that it also happens to be one of three known double-arch stone bridges in the county.
A Little Too Small
The Walz Ford Bridge was begun in late 1899 and finished at the beginning of the year 1900. Like many early Butler County stone bridges, the bridge was built with a very narrow waterway, the two spans being a mere 18′. While many of the early too-small stone bridges in Butler are long gone, the Walz Ford Bridge survives, now spanning nothing, and completely filled in on one side.
Bids were advertised for the Walz Ford Bridge beginning in August of 1899 along with those for another stone bridge. As per the advertisement appearing in the August 25, 1899, edition of The Butler County Democrat:
NOTICE TO RECEIVE BIDS.
El Dorado, Kansas, August 19, 1899.
Notice is hereby given that the County Commisioners of Butler county, Kansas will receive bids until Wednesday noon, September 13th, 1899, for the construction of a 36 foot arch stone bridge across the Walnut river on the section line between sections 20 and 29, range 7 in Sycamore township.
Also for the construction of a double arch stone bridge, consisting of two 18 foot arches, across Rock Creek on the section line between sections 20 and 21, township 29, range 6, Clay township.
Plans and specifications for this work are on file with the county clerk.
The Board reserves the right to reject any or all bids. By order of the Board
S. G. Pottle, County Clerk.From the August 25, 1899, edition of The Butler County Democrat.
Incidentally, the other bridge referred to before the Walz Ford Bridge in the above advertisement is the Sycamore Springs Bridge built by Abe Matheney, which bridge is still in use.
The “double arch bridge across Rock Creek in Clay township at the Walz ford” was awarded to Walter Sharp, as we find in the “Commissioners Proceedings” published in the September 15, 1899, edition of the Walnut Valley Times. The cost of the structure was $635.
Work was commenced on the bridge by November of 1899, according to the November 3, 1899, edition of the El Dorado Republican. In January of 1900, we find that the county commissioners inspected the Walz Ford Bridge, apparently becoming lost in the process, according to the account in the January 12, 1900, edition of the Walnut Valley Times. And, in the February 2, 1900, edition of the Walnut Valley Times the completion of the bridge was announced. Incidentally, in this last reference, it was mentioned that the bridge was near “Church Price’s.” Churchill M. Price was a prominent member of Clay Township, and may have been involved in the building of the Walz Ford Bridge, having received some payment from the county for bridge matters according to the January 19, 1900, edition of the Walnut Valley Times.
The Walz Ford Bridge was completed, though some trouble came up due to a large stone that had apparently been left in the road by the bridge builders and which stayed there for months; more information can be found both in the January 17, 1902, edition of the Douglass Tribune and the edition of the Walnut Valley Times that came out the same day.
The Walz Ford Bridge Today
The north approach of the little double-arch Walz Ford Bridge is very long, and it is through this approach that the creek now flows, being spanned by a bridge consisting of concrete abutments, steel beams, and a corrugated metal deck. The rather washed-out long north approach of the stone bridge is still in use, and, furthermore, the road also crosses the two dry arches of the original bridge. Aside from the fact that most of the top curbing stones are gone, resulting in exposure of the tops of the arches, and the fact that mortar joints are quite dry, the Walz Ford Bridge proper and its immediate approaches appear to be quite sound. The arches still appear to retain their shape perfectly, and there are no obvious bulges or other distress signs in the stonework. There seems to be no reason why the Walz Ford Bridge won’t last for another hundred years. All things considered, this little partly buried bridge is in surprisingly good condition.
One question in regards to the bridge is whether or not there is a plaque on it. Walter Sharp normally cut a plaque on the upstream keystone of the single-arch bridges he built in Butler County in the era the Walz Ford Bridge was built. would he put a the plaque on such a small double-arch bridge, and, if so, where? At any rate, it appears likely that a plaque, if present, would be located on the buried upstream side of the bridge.